Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Adventure classics -- A girl, a guy, and a giant

The Princess Bride

by William Goldman


“It’s still my favorite book in all the world. And more than ever, I wish I had written it,” William Goldman writes, introducing the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of his comedic fantasy romance, The Princess Bride. “Sometimes I like to fantasize that I did, that I came up with Fezzik (my favorite character),” he adds, playfully keeping up his contention that he’s only the abridger of the much longer tale -- the “good parts” version.

Of course, Goldman is a novelist and screenplay writer -- which is only a more polite way of saying a person is a professional liar than calling him a politician. But somehow I believe with all my heart in the truth of his feelings for the character of Fezzik the giant wrestler. Because Fezzik is also my favorite character. And my grandkids’ favorite, too.

But did Goldman really envision Arnold Schwarzenegger as Fezzik, as he contends? The thought could only have flitted through his mind because not even he, not even the S. Morgenstern the title page credits with this “classic tale of true love and high adventure,“ could have imagined the world’s biggest, baddest, saddest giant, professional wrestler A.R. Roussimouff, aka Andre the Giant, playing the part he was born for in the movie version of The Princess Bride.

I’ll come back to Roussimouff’s story in a moment. But first, in a digression almost worthy of those of Goldman himself, the rest of the story.

Enter Buttercup, farmer’s daughter and the most beautiful woman in the world, who fortunately has no idea of how beautiful she is and couldn’t care less if she did. (Although her lack of interest in her own beauty may reflect her lack of imagination more than her good sense.) Enter Westley, aka “the farm boy,” passionately in love with the clueless Buttercup. Enter evil Prince Humperdinck, who wants to marry Buttercup, not for either love or money but to acquire her as an accessory -- a sort of walking tchotchke. Even Buttercup knows that’s not a good thing.

Of course, Buttercup will fall in love with Westley and escape Humperdinck (although Goldman‘s novel, if not his screenplay, toys with our feelings in this regard). But like Dorothy in Oz, she and Westley will need the help of some good friends, including those who appear at first sight to be enemies. Enter Fezzik. And obsessive swordsman Inigo Montoya, and a few more. But the greatest of these is Fezzik. And the only person who could truly play Fezzik was A.R. Roussimouff (sometimes spelled Roussimoff).

“His listed size was 550 pounds, seven-and-a half-feet tall,” Goldman writes. “But he wasn’t really sure and he didn’t spend a lot of time fretting on the scale each morning.”

Imagine that man with the lines Goldman gave him: “‘I just feel so safe with you,’” Fezzik said (to Inigo but) in truth he was very frightened. . . He held the door open for Inigo, and together, stride for stride, they entered the Zoo of Death, the great door shutting silently behind them.”

The real life of Andre the Giant ended with his death at age 46 of congestive heart failure, possibly aggravated by the hormonal anomaly that caused his gigantism. But in addition to his enduring charm in The Princess Bride movie, he left the world a cast of his enormous hands at Dallas’ Baylor University Medical Center. For more about the casts collected by hand surgeon Adrian E. Flatt, see “A show of hands” at this site. A photograph of Andre’s hand casts appears on my “Totally Texas” board at Pinterest.

(Next Wednesday, Adventure classics begins an April of mysterious adventures, with Georges Simenon’s Madame Maigret’s Own Case. Yeah, I said I’d do a different Simenon, but I loved this one, with Inspector Maigret’s wife taking a hand in his investigation of a murder without a corpse.)

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